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Atlas Performing Arts Center — Sprenger 

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Saturday, July 18 at 8:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 21 at 9:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 25 at 2:30 p.m.

They say: The game is simple. The system isn’t. The stakes couldn’t be higher. In the Paper Game, there’s only one rule that matters: win, or die trying.

Molly’s take:  In the midst of the 2009 debate over health care reform, Sarah Palin caused one of the world’s worst epidemics of mass eye-rolling when she expressed fear that a government-sponsored health system would lead to the creation of “death panels” to determine who would receive life-saving care and who would be left to die.

The Paper Game, written by Julia Holleman, takes this concept to a surreal, nightmarish extreme, in a dystopian society where victims of frequent earthquakes must prove they are worthy of rescue in a Who Wants to be a Millionaire-style “Game,” where the One Rule is that every rule can be broken.  Those who know how to bend the rules to their advantage have a better shot at winning.

The villain of this piece is, aptly, a white guy in a suit. He’s named Robert, and played slimily by Keegan Cassady, who patronizingly calls his female colleague “sport” as he tries to teach her to bend the Game to her will. Aubri O’Connor brings wide-eyed naiveté to the role of his colleague Jane, who tries to convince Robert to rescue the two trapped workers: the clueless Ty, played convincingly by Ronnie Brown, who is desperate to be freed so that he can care for his daughter, and the cunning Denise (Tiffany Byrd), whose devious Game-playing skill is the perfect match for Robert’s.

The four players are watched, literally from on high, by Bess Kaye as the Game personified. She’s detachedly determining the veracity of each player’s answer, with no apparent concern for the interests of the players, and passes judgement with a classic game show bell/buzzer combination.

Renana Fox‘s direction keeps the tension high throughout the piece by refusing to allow absurdity to take over. The audience holds its collective breath waiting to see what each player’s next move will be, even as the futility of their actions becomes increasingly apparent.

It’s surely no accident that The Paper Game pits a straight white male against two women and two black people to illustrate exactly how the chips are stacked, and asks if it is better for the disadvantaged to work within the system to achieve their ends, or to reject the system altogether?

See it if: Watching folks struggle against The System makes you raise your fist in solidarity.

Skip it if:  You think games should be fun.

Image courtesy of Nu Sass Productions